Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
December 6, 2015
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Second Sunday of Advent

“A voice of one crying out in the desert.”   Luke 3:4 (cf. Isaiah 40)

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls beginning in 1947 highlighted the presence of a group called the Essenes.   I had the great pleasure of visiting the excavations of these communities set up by devout Jewish followers in the roughly two centuries immediately preceding and following the coming of Jesus Christ.   Their intent was to flee into the desert and up to the mountains where they could lead a religious life in preparation for the Messiah’s coming and hopefully be free of distractions and interference by Roman authorities and others.   For their hermitage they chose a desolate area northwest of the Dead Sea. 

What struck me about the Essene communities was how similar they were to our Christian monasteries.   Everything was shared in common.  The day was evidently dedicated to prayer and work.  Part of this work was the preservation and copying of scrolls, containing hymns, sacred writings, the psalms, commentaries and apocryphal writings in Aramaic and Hebrew.   

These devout Jews that had fled to the desert used the very quote from Isaiah we find in today’s Gospel to explain why they had isolated themselves in the wilderness.

    A voice of one crying out in the desert:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
    Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be
        made low.
    The winding roads shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth,
    and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6)

The Essene communities were an important witness to the preparation needed for the coming of the Messiah.   For our sacred writer this prophecy is fulfilled in John the Baptist.   He too heralds the coming of the Messiah and his message is clear:  “Prepare.”   

John the Baptist is an Advent sign.   The Lord is coming.   We must prepare with lives of genuine reform and repentance.  A voice “crying out in the desert,” he brings to our attention the need for repentance.   We are called to “make straight [the Lord’s] paths” (Luke 3:4).  

How different is John the Baptist’s way of life from the world around him?   The world of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, and their ilk?    In the world of power and deception, John the Baptist is a direct contradiction.   We have always had a need for the witness of those who contradict the world.   This is a major reason why the men and women of our Church who live a monastic and cloistered life are so important to us.   They are our modern day John the Baptist.   They speak to us of a radical response to the call to “prepare.”  

And for us, who are to be in the world but not of it, we need to be reminded that we are called to holiness also.   Each and every one of us is called to holiness.    That life of holiness begins with following exactly the command of John the Baptist, repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3).  

There is no progress in the spiritual life without a turning from sin.   The valleys of our souls are filled in and the mountains of our lives are leveled so that the Lord can enter even more quickly.  That is the Advent message and the witness of the “voice of one crying in the desert.”